Sexual Identity: Special Considerations for Youth

Posted by on Sep 9, 2014 in ISSI Blog

Sexual Identity: Special Considerations for Youth

Miller Illustration

Something ISSI research has found is that milestone events for individuals with same sex attraction are likely to occur starting with an awareness of same sex attraction anywhere in the age range of 8-14, with behavior, labeling, disclosure, and same-sex relationship following after throughout the teenage and early adult years. We know that the adolescent years are crucial for identity development in general, as well as sexual identity. Therefore, youth who are learning about their same-sex attraction and how to live in congruence with their values, beliefs, and sexual identity have unique considerations as they navigate these issues.

Some unique considerations for youth include:

  1. The youth may feel societal pressure to take on the label as gay, when they are still in the identity formation stage and therefore may still be processing through what place their sexual identity has in their life. Conversely, a youth may also feel great pressure to not identify as gay for religious, family, cultural or other reasons.
  2. The youth may get mixed reactions from those close to him/her in their life. For instance, they may have a supportive friend, while their parents may need more time to process through what their child shared with them.
  3. Parents specifically may need time to process what the youth has shared with them. While the youth may have been wrestling with these emotions and thoughts for a long time, this may come as a complete surprise to the parents, so the youth may need to be patient while the parents process this.
  4. Because adolescence is a time of identity development, it may be helpful to talk through what sexual attraction means specifically to the youth. Using terms such as “same-sex sexuality” may be more helpful that identifying with the seemingly more permanent label of “gay.”
  5. Publicly coming out as gay may carry some stigma in certain circles. If a youth is identified as such in his school or other community, he may be at an increased risk for feeling alienated, depressed, or other negative emotions.

Helpful questions to ask a youth who is navigating sexual identity and same-sex sexuality:

  1. Are there people in your life you feel safe talking to–a mentor, a youth pastor, your parents? Who do you trust with what’s going on in your life?
  2. How are you making sense of your feelings and experiences?
  3. How has it been for you to hear the way people discuss identity and labels (gay, straight, bi) around this topic? What in all of those discussions resonates with you?
  4. What are your thoughts about all of this?  What makes sense to you at this point?
  5. How are you holding up? What are you doing to take care of yourself?


-Michelle Miller


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